Friday, December 25, 2009

The Adoration Of The Magi

Master Francke (Active In North Germany 1424-1436)
The Adoration Of The Magi
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Tempera On Panel
39 5/8 Inches By 36 3/4 Inches

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Birth Of Jesus

Master Francke (Active In North Germany 1424-1436)
The Birth Of Jesus
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Tempera On Panel
39 5/8 Inches By 36 5/8 Inches

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Home For Christmas

The snowstorm that struck the East Coast Friday night and Saturday morning did not affect our flight early yesterday, which relieved us greatly. Joshua and I had been worried about a flight cancellation ever since winter storm advisories had been issued, but Logan’s runways were still in use at 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning and our flight departed only a few minutes behind schedule. Flights to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Richmond, however, were cancelled across the board.

My middle brother was waiting for us when our flight arrived at MSP, and he took us straight home.

Everyone was present when we arrived, because my older brother and his family had decided to spend the entire day at my parents’ house, from breakfast through dinner, in honor of our return. Everyone was glad to see us, not least the dog, who—according to my mother—fully understood that we were coming home yesterday morning.

We had a big breakfast as soon as we arrived home: cereal, berries, cranberry-orange muffins, ham-and-cheese omelets, fried potatoes, toast, juices, and genuine homemade Christmas Stollen, the gift of a beautiful lady from our church.

Even though she had not seen us for four months, my niece remembered Josh and me and she appeared to be excited to see us. For the last two weeks, she had been told, over and over, that we were coming home, and she understood this information and was not surprised or nonplused at our arrival.

All morning we played with her and my nephew, most of the time on the kitchen floor, and we even bundled them up and took them outside in order for my nephew and the dog to romp around in the back yard for half an hour.

My mother had prepared a substantial lunch for everyone: roast pork in pastry; Brussels sprouts; candied sour apples; and a very complicated and special version of macaroni-and-cheese. For dessert, we had apricot-raisin-sour cream pudding, which is to die for, made from an old Norwegian recipe.

We did nothing but sit and talk while the kids took their afternoon naps. There was not a lot to catch up on, but we nonetheless had much to discuss, from Christmas gifts to plans for the next two weeks to the possibility of a trip to Greece over Josh’s Spring Break.

After the kids woke from their naps, we played with them for the rest of the afternoon.

My nephew is a whirlwind of activity at all times. I don’t know how my sister-in-law keeps up with him. He goes nonstop from toy to toy, game to game, puzzle to puzzle, and he always seems to know exactly what he wants to do next. When he needs a bit of respite from his constant motion, he likes to sit on someone’s lap and have a picture-book story read to him.

My niece is more sedate. She ALWAYS likes to sit on someone’s lap, from which perch she watches what is going on around her. She watches the dog, she watches her brother, she watches her parents, she watches her uncle, she watches her grandparents—and yesterday she watched Josh and me. She likes to be talked to, and she smiles whenever something catches her fancy. She’s a little charmer.

For dinner, we had butternut squash soup, roast chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade butter noodles, green beans, parsnips, homemade biscuits and a cranberry-nut salad. For dessert, we had Christmas cookies.

At 8:00 p.m., my older brother’s family had to go home, as 8:30 p.m. is bedtime for my niece and nephew, but my middle brother hung around until 9:30 p.m.

Josh and I were ready to turn in not long after. We had been up since 3:00 a.m. East Coast time, and we were having trouble keeping our eyes open.

We had no trouble rising very early this morning—we woke at 4:45 a.m. Central time—and, first thing, we took the dog to the park for his early-morning run.

The dog is aging, and it is more and more noticeable now. He’s still rambunctious, and he continues to enjoy his early-morning run, but he is not as energetic as he was even one year ago. After his morning run, and after his breakfast cereal, he now likes to take a nap, which he is doing this very moment as he waits for my parents to rise for the day.

When my parents come downstairs, I have a big breakfast in mind: Eggs Benedict, followed by apple pancakes and apple sausage. I suspect my middle brother will be over soon—he always knows what’s on my mind, and he won’t want to miss out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lukacs Speaks

News is not entertainment. Propaganda is not knowledge. Sentiment is not opinion. Ideology is not history. Publicity is not popularity.

John Lukacs

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Justizpalast Munich

We explored the exterior of Munich's Palace Of Justice on August 2 of this year. The magnificent Beaux-Arts structure occupies three city blocks.

My brother and I first visited Munich in November 2002. Strolling the city streets, we encountered the enormous building by surprise and were instantly captivated by its beauty and grandeur.

The postcard below is from the 1890's, when the Palace Of Justice was Munich's newest public building.

The photograph below is from a travel guide of Germany published in the 1890's.

The photograph below, from 1945, shows the Palace Of Justice at war's end. The post-war reconstruction largely recreated the original exterior, but the lavish pre-war interior was much simplified during reconstruction.

Munich's Palace Of Justice was scene of numerous treason trials during World War II.

Members of The White Rose, among many others, were tried and condemned to death at Justizpalast.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another Big Day

It was another big day back home because my older brother turned 35 today.

It is very hard for me to believe that my older brother is 35 years old. To me, it seems as if he first enrolled in college only six or seven years ago and that he should be, roughly, 24 years of age.

My parents have a different view. They contend that it seems as if my older brother first enrolled in grade school only six or seven years ago and that he should be, roughly, twelve.

One of the earliest memories I possess is my memory of my older brother’s tenth birthday. He was allowed to host a birthday party that year and to invite his friends from school and church—and I, four years old, was not allowed to attend, which saddened me greatly. I KNEW the party was going to be lots of fun, and I did not understand why I (and my middle brother) had to be packed off to my grandparents’ house for the duration of the party.

Of course, after five minutes at my grandparents’ house, I forgot all about the birthday party—until my grandmother announced that it was time for her to make my brother’s birthday cake, which for me served as an instant reminder of all the fun I was missing back home at the party.

In fact, I am confident the party was entirely lame, because my brother says he remembers absolutely nothing of what occurred at his birthday party—except for one very sad thing: the mother of one of his classmates was killed in an automobile accident while driving that classmate home after the party. The classmate suffered no injuries in the accident, but his mother died instantly at the accident scene, her death the result of a horrible (and probably freakish) blow to the head. Had she been wearing a safety belt, she probably would have suffered no harm whatever.

My family was to learn of the tragedy within minutes of its occurrence.

Once the birthday party was over, and all guests had departed, my parents and my older brother set out for my grandparents’ house, where there was to be a second birthday celebration. En route, they were soon overtaken and passed by speeding police cars and an ambulance. Very quickly thereafter, they came upon the accident scene.

My parents recognized the car involved in the accident, and so did my brother. They had arrived at the accident scene just as the body of the mother was being transferred from the automobile to the ambulance, while the stunned ten-year-old son stood alongside the car, apparently in shock.

My father sent my mother and my brother on to my grandparents’ house, while he remained at the accident scene. My father knew the boy, and he knew the boy’s father, and he knew that the boy should not be left to deal with the tragedy alone among strangers.

It was a horrible situation.

The police took my father and the boy to the hospital, where they waited for the boy’s father to arrive. It took the authorities more than two hours to locate the father, and another hour before the father arrived at the hospital. Only then was anyone officially informed that the mother had been pronounced dead—but my father and the boy, three hours earlier, had realized that she had died at the accident scene.

That was an agonizing afternoon, twenty-five years ago today.

Today’s birthday celebration was, thankfully, wholly a happy one.

My mother made a pineapple-coconut birthday cake, made from fresh pineapple and fresh coconut, and she prepared one of my brother’s favorite dinners for his birthday: filet mignon, twice-baked potatoes, green beans, fried red tomatoes, and genuine corn pudding, preceded by a pasta-seafood salad.

Joshua and I were not present in person to share in the celebration, but we were there in spirit—and we WILL be home in another seven days.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Michaelskirche Munich

Munich's Michaelskirche, the largest Renaissance-era church North of The Alps, which we visited on July 31 of this year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Books Must Have Jokes

Books must have jokes. People have to be amused because life is so sad.

British Historian Paul Johnson

No Bright Lights For These Children 65 Years Ago

Two girls dragging a Christmas tree through the rubble of bombed-out Frankfurt in December 1944.


My parents were not yet born in 1944, but both sets of my grandparents were in the primes of their lives that year.

I never heard a lot of family stories about the war years. I don’t think there were many to tell.

Despite rationing, the American Midwest thrived during the war owing to the importance of agriculture commodities. There was no wartime deprivation of any sort in the grain belt.

Only a couple of distant relatives served in the armed services during the war, and both survived (although one was held as a German Prisoner Of War for more than two years; after returning home, he never talked about it for the rest of his life, even to his wife, and ever after refused to travel in Germany).

My maternal grandfather worked in the family firm day and night during the war years, but he must not have had any unique wartime memories to share—other than his fierce hatred of Franklin Roosevelt, a hatred that lasted until the day my grandfather died. Today people are prone to forget that Roosevelt was detested by 40-to-45 per cent of the American public throughout Roosevelt’s term of office—but I, because of my grandfather, have never needed a reminder.

Roosevelt died when my mother’s oldest brother was seven years old. When Roosevelt’s death was announced in the classroom, Uncle Edward stood up and cheered.

The teacher sent a note home with Edward, informing my grandparents that Edward had misbehaved in class. My grandfather sent a note back to the teacher the next morning, informing her that Edward’s behavior had been entirely appropriate, since Edward had never heard a good word about Roosevelt at home.

My maternal grandmother was raising a young family during the war years. The only memorable war story I heard her tell was about wartime rationing.

My grandmother and other homemakers would trade coupons throughout the war, giving up coupons they did not need and exchanging them for coupons useful to their families.

Through trading, my grandmother acquired additional sugar coupons in excess of the limit for one household—there apparently WAS a sugar shortage in the Midwest during the war—and this fact disturbed her greatly.

My grandmother was so upset over the excess sugar coupons that she could not sleep the night she acquired them. The next morning, first thing, she returned them to the friend who had given my grandmother the coupons, telling the friend to keep both the sugar coupons as well as the coffee coupons my grandmother had used in the trade.

My paternal grandfather, a farmer, had very little to say about the war years, at least in my presence. The only thing I recall him saying about the war was that “these fine young Dutch boys” (from Pella, Iowa, a town settled by Dutch immigrants) had learned to smoke while serving in the armed forces, something of which my grandfather severely disapproved.

With reference to the war years, my paternal grandmother told of the necessity of limiting trips “to town”, a necessity created by gas and tire shortages as well as the need to make civilian automobiles last as long as possible (domestic automobile production ceased between 1942 and 1945).

Those who served in the U.S. armed forces quite naturally suffered greatly during the war period. American civilians, on the other hand, experienced a cakewalk during the war compared to their European counterparts.

Minneapolis thrived during World War II. Elegant department stores were stuffed with luxury goods. Fine restaurants did a booming business. Downtown was packed every night with revelers. Six Broadway shows at a time, or more, with New York casts, played to capacity every night in the theater district. Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony, in a period now looked upon as “the glory years”, played to full houses at Northrop Auditorium (capacity: 4850) twice a week.

Things were vastly different throughout the European continent. Civilians everywhere, excepting Spain and Portugal, had to endure a gruesome six years.

Germans, the perpetrators of the conflict, probably had the worst wartime experiences of all, and there is some justice in that fact.

However, Germany’s children were innocents—and children in bombed cities, tens of thousands of whom died, suffered grievously.

I wonder what the young German girls in the photograph were thinking as they dragged their Christmas tree through the rubble of Frankfurt.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bright Lights

There will be a big celebration in Minneapolis tonight because my niece was born a year ago this morning.

It is hard to believe she is one year old.

She is weaned from her bottle now and taking her first tentative steps. She can walk around a room supporting herself by holding onto furniture but she is not yet ready to walk without something for support. That will come any day.

Despite the fact that my niece participated in the celebration of my nephew’s birthday six weeks ago, she does not understand the significance of today. All she understands is that she will go to her grandparents’ house tonight for dinner, that there will be cake for dessert, and that she will be presented with some new toys. For her, that is excitement enough.

My mother is going to bake a white cake and decorate it with pink and yellow roses. No doubt it will be very beautiful—and no doubt it will be served with homemade ice cream.

My niece will have her favorite dinner tonight: boiled chicken cut into tiny pieces, mashed potatoes, peas, mashed carrots with a touch of maple flavoring, homemade applesauce, and cranberry sauce (which she loves).

She’s a good eater now. She is no longer finicky, as she was last summer, when she first began exploring solid food.

She likes her morning cereal, and she likes her morning scrambled eggs. For lunch, she likes tomato cream soup and toasted cheese, or chicken noodle soup and tuna salad spread on a butter cracker. She likes poached pears and gingerbread when she gets up from her afternoon nap. She likes boiled chicken or pork tenderloin for dinner, along with mashed potatoes. Her preferred vegetables are peas, lima beans, carrots and butternut squash. She’s big on strawberry jello, cranberry sauce, all kinds of applesauce, and a whipped pineapple chiffon salad my mother very seldom made until my niece went crazy over it a few weeks ago. For dessert, my niece likes vanilla pudding and tapioca most of all, although she has acquired a recent fondness for peach cobbler and ice cream.

Everything she eats must be cut into tiny pieces, and she must be fed with a spoon, but she takes her meals at regular mealtimes now, sitting in a high chair at table. At my parents’ house, her chair is placed at a corner of the dining table, between her mother and her grandmother, so that two people are available to feed and assist her. She generally makes it through mealtime with no fuss.

Last Saturday, her father and her uncle—with assistance from everyone else in the family—erected and decorated a Christmas tree, the first Christmas tree in the new house.

My brothers erected the tree in the kitchen because the kitchen is the room most often in use at my older brother’s house, where it serves as pantry, cookhouse, dining room, playroom and family room. As a result, my older brother and my sister-in-law decided to put the tree in the kitchen, where it would be most enjoyed.

The tree was placed at the far end of the kitchen, where it is surrounded by windows on three sides. The tree is easily-observed from all over the room, a requirement, but it is also out-of-the-way, another requirement.

My brothers selected the tree early Saturday morning. They bought a nine-foot-tall evergreen, choosing a giant tree in order to take advantage of the kitchen’s high ceilings.

My brothers spent most of Saturday decorating the tree, all the while keeping an eye on the day’s college football games—which worked out well, because Saturday featured one of the best series of college games in the history of the sport.

While my brothers worked on the tree, my mother and my sister-in-law baked Christmas cookies.

All day, my father—when not playing with my niece and nephew—helped out wherever and whenever he was needed.

The day ended with a dinner of prime rib, which everyone enjoyed immensely (except my niece, who ate chicken).

This year, for the first time, Christmas will be held, not at my parents’ house, but at my older brother’s house. It will mark the first Christmas in the new house, and allow my niece and nephew to experience the thrill of early Christmas morning in their own home.

I suspect this will turn out to be a permanent change of Christmas venue.

I do not think my parents mind—and, if they have regrets, I am sure they understand and accept the situation.

It is a passing of the generational torch, one of many to occur over coming years.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dohnanyi In Boston

Last night, Joshua and I went to Symphony Hall to hear Christoph Dohnanyi lead the Boston Symphony.

The concert was excellent. Under Dohnanyi, the Boston Symphony sounded like an orchestra of the first rank.

Ensemble was tight. Balance between sections was better than usual. Rhythms were crisp and exact. The strings offered more transparency than the Boston norm.

The Boston Symphony’s thick, flabby sound had disappeared for the night, replaced with something resembling sheen and finesse.

It is amazing what a master technician can do for an orchestra. In only three rehearsals (plus one “public rehearsal”), Dohnanyi had succeeded in cleaning up the orchestra’s roughhewn sound to a remarkable degree and instilling the level of precision expected as a matter of course in Cleveland. I have never heard Boston play to better effect.

The concert began with Bartok’s Divertimento For String Orchestra, the composer’s final completed composition as a European. The Divertimento, a product of August 1939, the last month in which Europe was at peace, was a Paul Sacher commission (as had been 1936’s Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta). The Divertimento is one of Bartok’s most immediately-appealing works, avoiding much of the darkness of its 1936 predecessor.

Dohnanyi is an excellent Bartok conductor, and he obtained an excellent performance of the Divertimento from the Boston musicians.

The second work on the program was Martinu’s Violin Concerto No.2, commissioned by the Boston Symphony for Mischa Elman and premiered in Boston in 1943. The Violin Concerto No. 2 is one of several Martinu works commissioned by the Boston Symphony.

I had not heard the Martinu since I was in high school, and I was pleased to become reacquainted with the work. In fact, I wish the musicians had played it through twice.

Martinu was at his peak in the 1940’s, and his Violin Concerto No. 2, in three movements, is one of his finer concertante works, perhaps matched only by the Piano Concerto No. 4.

The concerto is, however, not as tightly-argued as the composer’s symphonies. Much of the writing resembles a motor idling, and there are no satisfying culminations to resolve the first and third movements. It is easy to understand why the concerto has never entered the repertory.

The Boston soloist was Frank Peter Zimmermann, one of today’s finest violinists. Zimmermann gave an intelligent account of the concerto, always trying to find content in the pages of passagework and avoiding schmaltz in the Andante Moderato. The orchestra sounded smashing.

The concert concluded with a Dohnanyi specialty, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8.

Dohnanyi is probably the world’s leading exponent of this most Czech of Dvorak symphonies, a remarkable fact given that Dohnanyi is an “objective” conductor and not given to gemutlich performances.

Dohnanyi offered a very Classical account of the score, and it was a very successful one. If the Boston Symphony were “his” orchestra, Dohnanyi no doubt would have offered more shading and more rubato. Nonetheless, this was about as fine a performance of the Dvorak as one is likely to hear these days—and the orchestra’s playing was on a very high level.

If the Boston Symphony Board Of Trustees knew what it was doing, it would replace James Levine with Dohnanyi tomorrow. With Dohnanyi at the helm, the Boston Symphony would, I am certain, return to greatness within three years.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Parade I

Victory Parade through the streets of Munich in July 1940, celebrating Germany’s recent conquest of France.

Parade II

German Prisoners Of War, guarded by American troops (and with German civilians walking alongside on the street), marching through Munich in 1945 shortly after Germany’s defeat.